Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer is uncertain how his newest player — 15-year-old midfielder Danny Leyva — is going to get to practice every day.
But the age-related complications for the youngest player to sign a first-team contract in Sounders history end with transportation. Leyva officially signed his five-year deal with his parents by his side Tuesday morning and was carted to the practice field at Starfire Sports in Tukwila, sprinting into a seamless position with his teammates.
When Seattle (4-0-1) plays at Colorado (0-4-2) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Commerce City, Colorado, it’s possible Leyva could make his MLS debut.
“I’m not afraid to put him on the field,” Schmetzer said.
With a soft smile and direct eye-contact, Leyva told a throng of media members gathered around him that an MLS start is his goal for this season. He’s been eyeing that goal since joining the Sounders’ academy at 13.
“This (signing) surprised me a lot, it’s really quick,” Leyva said. “But a lot of hard work has gotten me to where I am today.”
Leyva signed to a Tacoma Defiance contract last fall, logging 354 minutes and four starts with the second-tier USL squad. Previously, he was part of the Sounders’ under-17 team that won the 2018 USSDA National Championship and he could be called to play in the team’s Generation Adidas Cup match against the Montreal Impact’s U-17 team this weekend in Texas.
The versatile teenager is the 12th homegrown player to break through the Sounders system, joining players such as right back DeAndre Yedlin (now with the English Premier League’s Newcastle United) and current Seattle forward Jordan Morris. Leyva is among the approximately 30 teenagers to be signed by MLS clubs in the past year.
“It’s a good sign for Major League Soccer that we’re signing younger players,” said Sounders vice president and sporting director Chris Henderson. “When I played in the league (1996-2006), it was looked at at times as a retirement league — top Europeans in their 30s coming over. That trend has changed. … As the league continues to be a high-quality league, more players are going to come in the prime of their career and from the bottom up, more young players are going to come.”
Leyva said the club’s focus on developing its own players was a reason he was willing to relocate to Seattle from his native Las Vegas. His parents — Ulises and Liz — entrusted a host family provided through the Sounders to transport Danny to training, help with his online high-school courses and provide support.
The couple said they knew from the time he was 3 their son had talent that would pull him from home earlier than most parents expect. Leyva missed family gatherings and friends’ birthday parties because he was training or traveling the country to play soccer.
Leyva saw minutes on the field during Seattle’s preseason games and trained with the veterans during the FIFA international break in March. Each time, Schmetzer was impressed by the teenager’s skill.
“He demands the ball in tough spots and he’s technically clean and his vision is good,” Schmetzer said. “The thing that really stood out to me is (he’s) not afraid to communicate with Nico (Lodeiro) or Cristian (Roldan). Say, ‘Hey, Nico, pass me the ball,’ or ‘Cristian, come over here. I need some help.’ Danny’s actually engaged in the game with a bunch of senior players with good verbal communication, which shows me he thinks the game through. That’s what is impressive to me.”